The White House said today that it would have no objection in principle to the use of lie-detector tests in the FBI's investigation of how Jimmy Carter campaign materials were obtained by the Ronald Reagan campaign organization in 1980.
Presidential spokesman Larry Speakes told reporters that the White House, which has ordered the use of lie detectors in probing news leaks of classified information, would not object "as a general philosophical rule" to their use in the FBI probe.
"Whether the bureau really wants to do that, we don't know," he added. "When the matter comes up then we'll address it."
Other officals said that Speakes commented publicly after conferring with White House deputy chief of staff Michael K. Deaver, who is the ranking presidential adviser here while President Reagan vacations at his nearby ranch. The officials said they anticipate that Reagan would approve a request to use polygraphs if it is made directly to him. Speakes said no such request has been made so far.
Speakes was responding to a Washington Post report that the FBI plans to seek the Justice Department's permission to give lie-detector tests to about a dozen witnesses to resolve inconsistencies in their accounts.
A source directly involved in the probe said Monday that investigators are recommending that polygraph tests be used for the interviews. The source said that while the final decision is up to Justice, the matter has been discussed with FBI headquarters and that headquarters traditionally has not objected to such requests.
A senior law enforcement official said today it was "simply not accurate" to say that FBI headquarters has asked the Justice Department for permission to use such tests in the investigation.
This official said that a lie detector "could play a role in this or any other criminal investigation," but that it "remains only in the arsenal. It's something that could be considered down the road . . . . It has not been recommended to the Justice department. The story may be premature."
The official said that no final decision will be made until completion of a round of second interviews with the 12 witnesses. The ongoing interviews are expected to be finished very shortly.
Speakes said Reagan "would like everyone to cooperate fully" in the continuing FBI interviews. He confirmed that the president was interviewed by FBI agents last Thursday in the White House residence. Speakes said the session lasted less than an hour, and that Reagan was accompanied by Fielding.
Included on the list of those the FBI is interviewing again are CIA Director William J. Casey and White House chief of staff James A. Baker III. Baker has said he received the Carter briefing papers for the 1980 presidential debate from Casey, while Casey has said he does not recall seeing the material or giving it to anyone.
Baker is on a fishing vacation in Texas and could not be reached for comment. But officials familiar with the situation said they were convinced that Baker would have no personal objection to taking a polygraph test.
Baker repeatedly has told intimates that he has provided a truthful account of how he obtained the briefing-book material, and said he would go to any reasonable lengths to demonstrate it.
Administration officials observed that Reagan earlier this year approved an executive order allowing the use of polygraph tests in investigations of news leaks of classified information. They said it would be inconsistent of him not to allow the same test if the FBI probe extends to material that was obtained from Carter's National Security Council staff. But they said the use of polygraphs is more of an open question if no classified information was involved.
Richard V. Allen, Reagan's former national security affairs adviser, has said he obtained non-classified information from a staff member of the Carter NSC.
Meanwhile, Rep. Donald J. Albosta (D-Mich.) has asked the FBI for a memo found in the Reagan campaign files to Casey from aide Max Hugel, who served briefly at the CIA in 1981. Government sources said Monday that this memo strongly suggested that the Reagan camp had an intelligence-gathering operation that was receiving information from someone working for Carter.
"It concerns me that we haven't received the purported document yet," said Albosta, whose subcommittee is probing the 1980 campaign.